COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rattan Lal, a preeminent soil scientist in Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), has been designated as a Distinguished University Professor -- the highest faculty honor bestowed by the university upon individuals who have truly exceptional records in teaching, research and service.
The recognition was given today (4/22) by Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, who surprised Lal with the announcement during a faculty meeting that turned out to be anything but routine. The university's Board of Trustees will confer the title at its June 24 meeting.
“Dr. Rattan Lal has raised the stature of this institution with work that is world-renowned and of enduring significance,” Gee said. “Emanating from a laboratory in Columbus, his insights have reduced hunger on the other side of the globe. He is the epitome of a Distinguished University Professor. Like the soil he studies, he is essential.”
A professor in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, Lal’s work focuses on carbon sequestration (the storage of carbon in soils and plants), studying soils in the United States, Africa, Latin America and India, and aiding in applying the technique of no-till to farms throughout the world. No-till is the best way for soils to store carbon and increase fertility.
Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), Lal’s other areas of research include soil processes and atmospheric greenhouse effects, sustainable management of soil and water resources, restoration and rehabilitation of degraded soils, agro-forestry, tropical agriculture, and agricultural development in the Third World.
Lal’s standing as an international expert on agricultural sustainability and climate change weighs heavily both in the research and public policy arenas. He frequently testifies before the U.S. Senate regarding carbon credits and carbon sequestration. His work on managing and protecting fragile soils has drawn the attention of presidents from abroad (including Iceland and Bangladesh), who have visited Ohio State to meet with him and partner on a variety of projects. During 1998-2000, he was lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in 2007 shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Lal also offered his expertise for Gore’s 2009 book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.
Lal’s numerous recognitions are as global and as substantive as the work he conducts. In the past decade alone, he has received the 2009 M. S. Swaminathan Award for his leadership role in agricultural research; a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Certificate from IPCC; the 2006 (and first ever) Liebig Award from the International Union of Soil Sciences; the 2005 Borlaug Award, named after Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Green Revolution “father” Norman Borlaug; and the 2004 Environmental Quality Research Award from the American Society of Agronomy. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates from Punjab Agricultural University, India (2001); the Norwegian University of Biological Sciences (2005); and Alecu Russo Balti State University, Republic of Moldova (2010).
“It is so fitting that the university is honoring Rattan Lal,” said Bobby Moser, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of CFAES. “He is recognized around the world -- including by presidents -- as a leader in his discipline. He is walking the path of Norman Borlaug, making a difference in the lives of many.”
During his prolific career, Lal has authored, been supported by $58 million in grant funds. He has been president of the Soil Science Society of America, the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation, and the International Soil Tillage Research Organization. He is also a fellow of six professional societies: the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, the Soil and Water Conservation Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Third World Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences of India.
Lal grew up on a small farm in Punjab, India, helping his family produce such crops as wheat and rice. A visit to Punjab Agricultural University (which was established with aid from Ohio State) to observe visiting American professors teach agriculture resulted in an undergraduate soil science degree in 1963. He later received a master’s degree in soil science at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi (1965), following that with a Ph.D. from Ohio State (1968), where he has been on the faculty since 1987.
Before joining Ohio State, Lal was a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney (1968-69) and a soil scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria (1970-1987). During his time in Africa, he taught farmers how to turn their struggling cropland into sustainable agriculture. His contributions to Third World agriculture and conservation, however, didn’t end there: his work at Ohio State on carbon sequestration and soil management, though it has global relevance, is most needed in developing regions such as Africa and India -- where there are 600 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
“You have to believe that what you are doing is beneficial,” Lal said after receiving the Borlaug award. “Or there’s no reason to do it at all.”